On August 21, a national bank and a debt collection agency (Defendants) together entered a $4.3 million settlement in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) class action lawsuit brought by borrowers who alleged the Defendants unlawfully attempted to collect certain mortgage payments. The July 2015 complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, accused Defendants of violating the FDCPA, California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and California’s Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code when they sent more than 20,000 allegedly misleading, unenforceable payment notices to borrowers after the bank had released the liens on the properties securing the mortgage loans.
According to a memorandum in support of the motion seeking preliminary approval of the settlement, approximately three percent of the 23,376 members of the settlement class members made payments on unenforceable loans. The rest of the class did not make any payments. After three mediation sessions and a series of negotiations, Defendants agreed to award class members amounts based on their placement into one of three tranches: (i) tranche 1: borrowers who made at least one “challenged payment” on a purchase money mortgage; (ii) tranche 2: borrowers who made at least one challenged payment on a non-purchase money mortgage; and (iii) tranche 3: borrowers who received an “allegedly deceptive payment communication” but did not make any challenged payments. The settlement terms stipulate that class members in tranche 1 will receive an initial payment worth 76 percent of the total challenged payments they made, and members in tranche 2 will receive an initial distribution of 38 percent of what they paid. Class members from Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 will be eligible for a second distribution if sufficient funds remain available. An approximately $22 payment will be sent to the majority of the class members (who fall into tranche 3), which will be paid from the $500,000 maximum statutory civil penalty available under the Rosenthal Act. Class members are not required to do anything to receive their award.